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Myers-Briggs: Psychology or Pseudoscience?


Introduction

‘What’s your MBTI type?’

This is a question you have probably heard of at least once. If not, you might have heard of a personality test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and might even have done the test yourself!


The MBTI is a personality test that was developed by Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in the 1940s and 50s. They were a mother daughter team who read the theories of the psychiatrist Carl Jung - who suggested that people could be placed into different types depending on how they preferred to use their mental capacities - and interpreted them to make the Myers-Briggs personality test. However, it was later found that both mother and daughter had no formal training in psychology or sociology, which begs the question: is it reliable, and why do people still use it?


Is It Reliable?

The MBTI is known for putting people into 16 types based on 4 pairs of cognitive functions:

  • Introversion (I) vs Extroversion (E)

  • Intuition (N) vs Sensing (S) and

  • Feeling (F) vs Thinking (T)

  • Perceiving (P) vs Judging (J)


Despite the overwhelming popularity that surrounds this personality test, it has been proven by psychologists to be inaccurate, being called ‘no better than a Buzzfeed quiz’.


The MBTI suggests that the traits that have been grouped into a pair are mutually exclusive. This, in theory, sounds accurate. After all, a mathematician and an artist must be polar opposites! However, if you dig a little deeper, this is the largest flaw in the personality test - it has long been said that personality dimensions are continuous, which means that grouping people into two different traits that are said to be polar opposites will surely be inaccurate! Taking Introversion and Extroversion as an example, most people would say that they fall somewhere in between the two: even Jung himself admitted “There is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum”!


On top of that, because of how the test is set up, two rather different people could be grouped into the same category. Let’s take the Introversion vs Extroversion pair as an example again: person A could have given 11 answers that pointed to them being extraverted, the other 9 pointing to them being introverted. Person B, on the other hand, gave 20 answers that pointed to them being extraverted, 0 pointing to them being introverted. In this scenario, person A and B would be grouped into the same letter ‘E’, despite person A most likely being an ambivert and person B most likely being an extrovert.


These are applicable to any of the pairs of cognitive functions, with the two traits being perceived in the test as polar opposites, whereas in reality they are more often than not found together. This also means that many people would get a different personality type every time they do the test (a study even showed that more than 50% of people get a different result after repeating the test twice!)


Use of MBTI

Despite the MBTI being disproved by many psychologists, it is still being widely used in society. Some think that this may be related to people’s tendency to go for anything that offers an easy solution. Others hypothesise that it may be because of the Barnum Effect: humans are more likely to believe something is true if it gives us individualised descriptions of our personalities, especially if all the results are positive, which is the case with the MBTI.


Some examples of the MBTI being used (and sometimes abused) include:

  • In premarital counselling to figure out the compatibility of couples

  • Some companies use the MBTI to select employees and decide which employees to give a raise

  • In career advising to determine the potential success rates in specific careers

  • The US military as a ‘leadership asset’

  • Hundreds of universities for management and leadership development

  • Online dating sites to figure out the compatibility of people


Conclusion

We have established that the MBTI is not an accurate description of our personalities. However, many people still find that they gain something from the test: some have said that answering questions and reading descriptions of their type may allow them to think more deeply about their personality, and may even be used as a starting point for discussing how people vary in their personalities and also emphasises tolerance for individual differences.


Many also find it fun to read all the different MBTI types and compare their friends and family to them! It is perfectly okay to do these personality tests, as long as it’s all in good fun, and you make sure that not too much weight is put on the results!


Or, if you’re looking for a more scientifically accurate personality test to try out, try the DISC personality test!


Sources


researcher - Charissa

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